ORANGE, Calif.

No matter the genre, quality music draws people in.

So, since its beginning in January 2008, New Hope Presbyterian Church, a new church development in the heart of Orange County, Calif., has placed an emphasis on music.

Three years later, New Hope has not only moved from monthly worship gatherings to weekly, but has also helped bring music back into a neighborhood school, hosts a leadership and music academy and has been asked to bring its ensemble to the local Starbucks on Sunday afternoons.

Clearly, something is resonating.

New Hope’s pastor, the Rev. Chineta Goodjoin, likens her call to be New Hope’s organizing pastor to a parachute drop.

“When you drop into a city and you have no family to call upon, no network and the list you’ve been given to start the church is seven years old with most of its members either dead or otherwise involved — welcome to the world of the unknown,” Goodjoin said. 

Added to that challenge, Orange County’s African American population, on which the church was initially to focus, is roughly 1.5 percent. But Goodjoin was not deterred.

“You might as well put your faith boots on and start to get busy,” she said.

It hasn’t always been easy. But for Goodjoin, who defines her normal to be change, the challenge has been worth it.

“We were quite intentional in the beginning of having an emphasis on music,” Goodjoin said.

Along with that emphasis was the realization that New Hope would need to break the stereotype that the black church only plays the organ, tambourine and drums. So, for the first year of monthly worship gatherings, New Hope hosted a different artist, excellent in their craft.

“We hosted harpists, cellists, flautists — just so the community could see the wide breadth of music that we can do, can embrace,” Goodjoin said. What they began to realize was that this variety of music drew people from all racial backgrounds, not just African Americans.

“So, now we have this, what has become a multi-ethnic church and we embrace that,” Goodjoin said. “We have not left the roots of the rich history of the African American church, but we have also opened ourselves up to who God is calling us to be.

“With a new church development we are always glad to see the stranger — that means people are coming to our church!” she said. “When we see new people coming to church we are humbled by it, as opposed to questioning who they are and where they come from.”

Each week during their Saturday night worship services, a different member of the congregation is asked to share a faith experience.

“There are times when I almost don’t feel that I need to preach, because those faith experiences are so deep and theological and beautiful — they hit at the heart of the gospel and everyone’s lives.

“We have an underlying theme that runs through everything that we do: You matter,” continues Goodjoin. “What we are trying to do is create an environment where everyone does matter, right where they are.”

But Goodjoin doesn’t just leave it there.

“We’ve started something called You Matter Mondays,” she said. Rather than simply keep the ‘you matter’ to themselves, Goodjoin is challenging the people of New Hope to take it out into the world by doing an act of kindness to someone. “It’s a form of evangelism that is non-threatening,” Goodjoin said.

She’s convinced that when you reach out to people and meet them where they are, that has an impact on the way they approach church. It’s a move from empty words to sincerity.

“We are going to reach out to everyone, to see the Jesus in others as they seek to see the Jesus in us,” Goodjoin said. “You’ve got to be willing to move beyond what you know and step deeply into what might make you uncomfortable — to accept strangers into your church who might not look or think like you — to take that risk and take joy in it.”

Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer, and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.